Monday, 17 October 2011

Mont St Michel and beyond

Whilst reviewing some old shots I came across the raw file for this image. I had originally attempted to process it along with the other images from North France, but not managed to produce anything worthwhile. But I've finally come up with a version that I'm happy with.

Mont St Michel
So now that's out of the way I can get back to taking new photographs!

The light has been good on the bay today, and after a long period of un-noteworthy channels, one had emerged that asks to be photographed. From now until March generally gives the best light, the majority of my bay images have been taken during the shorter days. The sun is far lower in the sky as it tracks across giving a far more dramatic backlight than the higher summer sun.

I've found that skies are generally lighter than the foreground. Something which often looks wrong is when the sky is over-filtered when using grads, or overly darkened in pp (both tend to be more a problem with realistic colour renditions). A low sun above a bank of cloud can often give a naturally brighter foreground than sky. Bring water into the equation, and the brilliance of reflections leads to high contrast and chiaroscuro lighting.

The other quality at this time of year depends on the movement of clouds. They alter the filtering of sunlight and how different surfaces reflect. Within the space of seconds the bay can change completely. One moment the channel of water will be reflecting the sunlight, contrasting with dark sand. Then the next moment the effect is reversed, positive turns to negative as the sand suddenly reflects the brightness whist the water goes dark.

Here are two similar compositions taken 4 minutes apart. Note the clouds in the first appear to be light on dark, where in the second they appear dark on light. Also the direct light on the sand bank to the left is displaying negative characteristics. There is a 2 stop variation between the exposures, the second having unfiltered direct sunlight shining off the wet sand. When I took these the second interested me most, but so far I prefer the processing on the first image. One to revisit.

Bay 1
f7.1 @ 1250th

Bay 2
f7.1 @ 6400th
This is a case where bracketing exposure proves very useful. I don't find the light meter tells me much in such contrasty conditions, the dynamic range is bound to be beyond the scope of the sensor, and the best way to asses it is using the histogram and LED rendition. This isn't easy when tripod mounted as the strong ambient light drowns out the faint LED image - borrowing a dark cloth from an nearby 5x4 photographer would be rather useful! But checking the LED is essential. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rain and more rain with a bit of rain for good measure

At last, my knee that I damaged at the start of summer is fit for running once more. One of my favourite fell races, The Three Shires, was last Saturday... but at around 13 miles and 4,000ft of climb it seemed prudent to give it a miss for a first race back on the fells.

The weather was lousy, cloud touching the bay leaving a gap just large enough for the constant rain to fall to the ground. That added more misery, its a course I know pretty well, so there's always the hope that I can sneak past a few fitter people who lose their way. But its one of the best races in the calendar to photograph - the start runs down a narrow lane for a few hundred yards, then across a stream. The first runners have the luxury of a narrow footbridge (replaced this year, the old one creaked and groaned under the weight of a few hundred runners once a year). The busy middle of the pack splits into two factions, those who enjoy an elevated view from the bridge of grown men and women splashing through the stream - and those who provide the entertainment. Its worth getting wet, it can save a minute or so. Plenty take the wet line, and plenty of spectators gather on the other side to watch them all splash through. As someone once commented - 'its like the start of Black Beauty'.

A quick chat at the start with club mates, then I made my way down to the bridge to get prime position. Then waited... and waited, stood in the stream up to the top of my wellies, water dripping off the tree above me, and the 'stream' rushing past. It wasn't looking good - I was wondering if I'd take the wet line had I been racing. Eventually the runners started to file along the bridge. Then continued to file across the bridge. Not a single person opted for the water. On one hand, why not? They couldn't get wetter! But saving a minute by risking a fall in there didn't make much sense. I took a few shots seeing as I was there, but runners walking in single file over a narrow bridge doesn't really stir the photographic juices nor fire me up for some hard pp back at the office.

Maybe next year - though with any luck I'll be running it rather than waiting to see if anyone goes nose first into the water.

This shot was taken later on a walk up Hampsfell above Grange. The nights are drawing in fast, 8 o'clock and the light has gone. Hand held with max iso seemed to record something, but had to push it pretty hard in photoshop to discover quite what. Imperative that you click on this one to see it larger.

Arnside and Arnside Knot from Hampsfell
iso 3200, ƒ4ish and pretty slow shutter

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Lido - St Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands

Finally home and more awake than on my previous post from Jersey. It was quite a tiring week. On Saturday I finally had half a day to myself but hadn't thought up a game plan. I got up early to set off to photograph some conker trees that I'd seen in the week but not had chance to set up. On arrival I did a quick reccie of the scene and weighed up a few options... then realised that I'd left a crucial piece of kit back in the hotel room. Most times I'd improvise and overcome, but there's no substitute for a camera, so back I went.

At least that snapped me into thinking mode. 7:30, breakfast just started, so a quick full English plus porridge and crates of toast soon had me back outside contemplating a hire car to pop round to a stunning looking castle further around the island. The oversight being that nowhere is open to rent cars at that time of day - a pushbike would have done, Jersey isn't quite three times the size of Wales.

Plan B was to get lost in the docks, something I found relatively easy, before making my way around to the other side of St Helier, a second bay that I'd look over to from on top of the central headland, but not visited. A very different bay to the one I was familiar with. Here's a shot from the first bay which I took last December. A wide swooping bay dominated by Elizabeth Castle.

Elizabeth Castle, St Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands

The second bay has far more rocks on the horizon. You'll have to trust me that they're quite spectacular, 2nd only to Krakatoa erupting, as I couldn't get sufficient elevation for a worthwhile shot. But I did spend some time at the Lido in the bay. Its a huge tear drop shaped pool build with a perimeter that is below the high tide level. This means the water gets refreshed twice a day. The tide was already lower than the pool and receding fast. Next time I'm there I'd love to capture it while the tide is just clearing the shape of the pool.

The pool combines lots of photographic qualities that I enjoy – gritty textures, graphic shapes, surreal details and scale, an air of neglect and decay (though this is purely due to the daily sea coverage and green weed that is growing on it, the structure is well presented and maintained), a range of backgrounds, restricted and therefore challenging viewpoints – plus the variability of the subject itself due to the changing tide, and the UK's reliable changeability of weather. Certainly a subject I could return to again and again. The shots showing water were all 30 seconds at ƒ14 to ƒ16 using the 10 stop ND. The other shots are pretty much the same apertures with whatever shutter speed worked without the filter. All tripod mounted, so the shutter speed for still subjects wasn't something I thought about.

Lido, St Helier, Jersey
Long flowing lines with the dramatic rocks barely discernible in the distance!

Lido, St Helier, Jersey
I think this is a seating area, obviously covered by high water, treacherously slippery. The four blocks in the distance are for diving off, surreal stuff - distant rocks.

Lido, St Helier, Jersey
This one is right on the edge of blowing the sky, 30 second just giving enough movement.

Lido, St Helier, Jersey
Seating/step area – I think this one will get reprocessed before too long. Wonderful graphic shapes.

Lido, St Helier, Jersey
More graphic shapes and surreal hand rail disappearing into the water
Tip of the week
Don't leave your camera in the hotel room. Trust me on this, it makes a difference.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Jersey, The Channel Islands, 2011

Well you know what its like, 5:30am in a hotel room where you can't get the temperature right and its not your pillow, but ridiculously tired so know that if I don't get back to sleep I'll be zombied all day tomorrow.  A chance to upload a few photos I took last night on my way back to the hotel from work. Its not a long walk, it took about 30 seconds in the pouring rain the night before - just long enough to get soaked to the bone it was raining so hard. But last night was the first chance I've had to get out with my tripod and take some shots of the buildings.

Here's one of the front of the Jersey International Business School where I'm working this week. It would be nice to use this in the prospectus for the following year, though that Jersey Marathon sign in the foreground is a potential problem. Maybe something photoshop could take a look at - its just a little high in the frame to be covered by a text box which will be placed on the page.

Jersey International Business School
3 seconds ƒ14
A short walk across the boole park, the Royal Yacht Hotel with its distinctive lighting.

The Royal Yacht Hotel, Jersey
I can't remember and too tired to look up the exif, but I think this one was about 15 secs ƒ14
This next one is about 5 images combined in photoshop. The exposure was too short to get enough car lights, but using layer modes makes it easy to combine the lights from different shots all taken from the same locked tripod.
Crossing, Jersey
One of the cars must have been changing lanes, giving a nice swirling streak.

I'm staying at the Pomme D'Or - nice food!

Pomme D'Or Hotel, Jersey
The sky colour had gone by this shot, but I like the canopy so worth taking.

And a few in daylight. 

Roof, Jersey
Not a shot that the tourist board would commission, but the obvious textures and distant dockside development was irresistible.

This final shot is a building that I photographed last December but struggled to get anything worthwhile. On my walkabout on Sunday the bright sun created a streak of light which crosses the yellow line by the side of the road. My original intention was to go starker, but the balance on this version seemed about right, keeping some of the surrounding texture.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Congratulations Elaine and Alan

Its late, I've had a long day, and I fly to Jersey tomorrow for the week (and haven't packed yet). But I've got to post some of my fave shots from today's wedding shoot for Elaine and Alan.

The weather has been far from ideal, that fine rain which refuses to stop, or let the sun shine through, or allow you to see the other side of the bay. In fact, my fave kind of landscape photography weather. However, it wasn't ideal for a wedding with little light and little chance of going outside unless you didn't mind a bit of the wet stuff.

What a great crowd of folk. They had one aim today, and that was to enjoy a great wedding at the Greythwaite Hotel here in Grange over Sands. Enough of the chitchat, on with the shots. I seem to be working from the back to the front, I haven't reached the ones of the service yet! All clickable to see larger.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Devils Bridge, Ribblehead and Malham

Alexring, a photographer friend from Greece, has been visiting the UK over the past fortnight. We met up at either end of his holiday to meet his family and spend some time in the Lakes, showing him some of the best bits. They then carried on up to Scotland for a tour of the Highlands and Northwest Coast, before stopping off with us on their return to catch flights home. This was a good opportunity for us to meet up with Ian Bramham for a day's photography.

Devils Bridge is only 35 minutes away. A picturesque location which is worth a stop whatever the weather. Last time I visited was after heavy rain in the springtime, all three arches of the bridge had water flowing through and most of the trees were stood in the water. Yesterday's water level must have been about 10 feet lower, the water quite calm.

Devils Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale
30 seconds ƒ15, 10.5mm

The clouds were moving rapidly, yet the sheltered stretch of river was relatively calm. A 10 stop ND filter helped to smooth the water more and capture a hint of the cloud movement.

Ribblehead Viaduct is a well known landmark on the Settle to Carlisle railway line. It crossed a wide valley in the centre of the triangle of mountains, Inglebrough, Wernside and Pen-y-ghent. A time check and feeding station is set up here on the Yorkshire 3-Peaks race, a chance to top up before the demanding climb up the steepest approach to Wernside. Its also rather photogenic, the colossal structure stands out for miles. A lot of people think its the location used in the Harry Potter films, but that's a more curved viaduct up at Glen Finnan in Scotland.

Once more, the rapidly changing cloud was there to be exploited. I set up in a high vantage point that gave a good view along the length of the bridge, the bright sun casting long shadows of the arches.

Arches, Ribblehead
1/400th ƒ7.1 70mm
There's a small spec on the ground about five arches from the far end - that's Ian giving the photo a bit of scale! I'd been working mainly with the Sigma 10-20mm, but this was an ideal situation to put on the 70-200 zoom and crop right into the abstract nature of the shadows.

But the sky was too good not to use as a feature in some shots, so the 10-20 went straight back on the camera for most of the day.

Path, Ribblehead

Cloud, Ribblehead
I keep returning to this one, feeling its just a bit too dark overall. Its one of those shots I'd like to retake as the cloud was such a great shape and in a fairly good location relative to the bridge. I would have like to stand about 70 feet in the air and closer to the arches... but that wasn't an option.

Thistle, Malham Cove
A large thistle plant as we approached the cove. A tricky one to process, but fits into my trees and rocks series.

After the cove we went round to marvel at Goredale Scar. It must be one of the trickiest features to photograph, a deep gorge with a waterfall at the bottom. The dynamic range is way beyond my camera, but the gorge is very narrow so grads would be of no benefit at all. Well, it was the end of a long day, so just a few fun shots before saying our goodbyes and heading off for home.

An enjoyable day, always fun to work alongside other photographers and see them in action. Alex was very patient, working out a shot and then waiting the the cloud to eventually clear from the sun so the subject would be picked out. Ian spent some time with his long lens shooting distant walls, which looked promising, and later, trees on the horizon - which looked like nothing at all to me! I look forward to seeing is he got anything from them, which will not doubt leave me kicking myself that he found something I missed :~)

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Runner up, Practical Photography Photographer of the Year 2011

Allium Seedhead
Runner up, Practical Photography Photographer of the Year 2011, Flora and Fauna round

I'm pleased to have won a runner up prize in the Flora and Fauna round of the Practica Photography POTY competition. I took this image a few weeks ago with the competition in mind. Allium seed heads are a great subject, I love the dynamic graphic form - the kind of subject that inspires Angie Lewin's wonderful printwork.

I photoraphed some fennel heads last year and found they worked far better in negative than positive, the interesting part being that they didn't appear to be negative at all. This was in part due to me using my dark coat as a dark backdrop to the well lit subject. When changed to negative my coat reversed to a bright background which worked better with fine (now dark) detail of the plant.

However, when I reversed the Allium the result was quite different, it didn't really work. My next step was to experiment with the blending modes using layers for the negative and positive versions in photoshop. When set to 'lighten' only the highlights from the negative show in the combined image. This creates a kind of solarization and made the Allium seeds look more like the moist sticky bobbles reminiscent of those on Honeydew plants.

Having recently flung my graduated filter holder into the harbour at Honfleur (fumbled is a more accurate description) it should prove relatively easy to spend the prize money!