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!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Dawn, Mont St Michel

The only advantage to setting an alarm for 5am is that I'm far too tired to question it. All my gear was ready, so I threw on some clothes, no doubt inside out and back to front, then out into the first light of the day. It was clear that there weren't going to be any spectacular dawn colours, but the soft diffused light was now from the opposite side so would reveal a different character and more surface detail then the previous night. The main floodlights had been turned off giving lesser lights more status.

First light, Mont St Michel, 60 seconds @ f8
The best part about dawn shoots is having more room to work. Even at such popular spots there are generally few people around. Perhaps the other photographers put one eye to the window and decided there were no fireworks to shoot, so rolled over and retuned to the land of zeds. I took the opportunity to walk around more, get up close to the buildings, and walk around on the causeway. It was on there that I found the ingredients for my almost posterised style of shots that I've used for several subjects including the American Cemetery of Omaha and Ghostly Trees above Grasmere.

Here's one of my favourite shots from the holiday. Aperture cranked right down to f16 to open up the DOF. Cars were already starting to appear, but plenty of time to experiment with a few compositions using the road markings. I'd been up and about for a couple of hours, so headed back to the van and see if there were any zeds left in there for me.

Curve, Mont St Michel, 1/8th sec @ f16

Mont St Michel

Our French holiday had two main targets, Mont St Michel and a garden in the Loire. Due to a technical hitch we decided not to push our luck and head too far south, but Sue would have had to drag me kicking and screaming back to the ferry had we missed out the Mont.

We got the first glimpse from miles away. The late afternoon sun was backlighting the area giving a clear silhouette. A brief stop for a token long shot, which amounted to nothing, then finally onto the causeway. Campervans filled a large area to the side of the main carpark, and for €12 sounded like unbeatable value for a full day's parking and an unbeatable breakfast view!

Breakfast view, Greeny parked opposite the Mont
The sky was lacking, I'd far rather have had a more threatening bank of clouds to work with - but as the evening developed I was able to take several long exposure shots with changing light and the tide flowing from the inlet by the parking area.

Mont St Michel, backlit, 9 mins @ f10
The exposures were looking fine on my LCD, but when I got home I found some were slightly under exposed, my processing brining out quite a lot of grain  ~ I like a bit of grain! While taking my shots I became aware that there seemed to be little else but the Mont to actually photograph. It in the centre of a large empty plain - some trees way off to the west and distant headlands across the bay and a small island off to the east... then lots and lots of vehicles. It is inevitable that many shots would amount to similar compositions and content, so any variables such as water or cloud could make a large difference.

The next shot was taken shortly after the sun had gone. The colours weren't as dramatic as this shot suggests, but recent experiments using LAB colour in photoshop have revealed all kinds of weird and wonderful effects! I'm quite happy with how this one turned out, the hint of inky blue to the top right retaining some sanity. 

Sunset, Mont St Michel, 1/8th @ f14

It reminds me more of coloured glass than any sunset I've actually seen, not that the camera ever lies. The colours were far closer to the following shot taken 18 minutes later. The floodlights have been switched on, though there was still quite a lot of ambient light. My Cokin Grad have combined with one of my NDs to add a slight magenta cast to the sky..

Dusk, Mont St Michel, 30 seconds @ f7.1, 400iso
Then finally into the blue hour (OK, blue 20minutesish).

Crossover light, Mont St Michel, 25 seconds @ f9, back to 200iso
About 20 minutes later, taken at the end of crossover light. Enough sky colour to form a backdrop and enough ambient light to hold onto details in the foreshore. I moved around to experiment with the sandbanks combining with the reflections. Timing seemed awkward on location - trying to avoid car lights driving up to the causeway. I found them frustrating at the time, though the red tail lights work well. White headlights were not so good. I may have kept a 1 stop grad on the upper half to reduce the difference between the subject and reflection.

This was one of the final shots of the night before setting my alarm for 5am, a few games of Boggle, then hitting the sack.

Hot tip
Go to Mont St Michel!

Monday, 8 August 2011

France 2011

Ah, the chance to get away from it all, have a quiet couple of weeks in France without a care in the world, and make up each day as we went along. Photography and painting were core activities and I will be adding a few pages to the blog when I get chance. So far I've processed a handful of photos but will keep this post short, dedicated to the American Cemetery at Omaha.

The scale of the cemetery seems endless, almost 10,000 soldiers are buried there. I've no idea how long our visit lasted, time stood still. Slowly walking among the graves - taking photos, sitting quietly - observing, reflecting. On one level, it is an amazing and beautiful site. The precision of the layout, the attention to detail and the immaculate tending by the small group of gardeners. On another level there's an ugliness (not the right word) that I can't escape. A powerful and moving experience, emotional, yet peaceful, very peaceful.